LINUX CONFERENCE: Linux struggles to get beyond the web

Behind the scenes, much of the internet is run on open-source platforms, including the Linux operating system. But bringing Linux over the divide to in-house corporate use still remains the largest problem Linux companies face, according to Larry Augustin, president and chief executive officer of VA Linux Systems.

"If you're using the internet today, you're using open-source software; you're using Linux," Augustin said in a keynote yesterday at the European Linux Conference in London.

Augustin said that 60 per cent of web servers on the internet are running Apache, the open-source web server software. "In 1998, Linux had 16 per cent of the server operating system market, and in 1999, it already had 25 per cent," he said, citing figures by market research firm IDC.

However, the main barriers keeping Linux from crossing over to mainstream acceptance by companies are not that easy to overcome.

The "open" model of Linux -- which is widely considered to be its strength -- can also hinder its acceptance in some cases, Augustin added. "People don't like the fact that the code is constantly being developed," he said. "They don't like the fact that there are three kernel releases a week on the internet," he added, referring to the heart of Linux source code, which is constantly under construction.

In the open-source method of development, upon which Linux is built, developers all over the world -- many of them unpaid -- collaborate to modify and update the code.

"With development infrastructure, sometimes we would find (companies) spending more time working on the (Linux) infrastructure for the project than working on the project itself," Augustin said.

But equally important to taking down the barriers is ensuring that no new barriers are put up. Linux distributors must be sure to keep the open-source "feel" of the operating system and not become an "intermediary model".

"The wrong way is to open a Linux company that acts as a wall between the developer and the user," Augustin said. "The right way is to help users and developers communicate," he added.

"Haven't you ever been using an operating system and said, 'Well, that's stupid, why do the menus look like that?'" Augustin asked the audience. "Now you can give your suggestions straight to the developer," he said. Users and developers communicate through various channels over the internet, including bulletin boards and email lists.

"Although getting started with it isn't necessarily easy, we are making it easier," he said.

The open-source model also makes economic sense for companies, Augustin said.

"Instead of buying a multimillion-dollar CRM (customer relationship management) installation, we gave $50,000 to people who were working on developing an open source," he said. "It cost us about one-tenth of what the commercial version would have cost us."

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